After seven months the NFL is finally back, which means it’s time to set your fantasy football lineups for Week 1.
Hours of preparation and drafting have all led to this moment.
With the 100th NFL season kicking off with tonight’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, here are some potential breakout games and situations to watch for this week.
What to watch for
Todd Gurley’s usage
After tallying 1,831 yards from scrimmage and 21 total touchdowns during the 2018 NFL regular season, Gurley normally would have entered this season as the clear-cut favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Instead, he has fallen to the second round of many fantasy football drafts.
Despite leading countless teams to the fantasy playoffs last season, Gurley was a no-show in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl LIII. One of the biggest talking points from Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots was Gurley’s limited usage, and concerns over Gurley’s arthritic knee have made people wary of selecting him in the early rounds.
Signs point to head coach Sean McVay dialing back Gurley’s workload and giving more carries to backups Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson Jr. Gurley should still be effective, but can he produce at the same level he did last season? Week 1 should give fantasy owners a better picture of how he’ll be utilized this season.
Le’Veon Bell’s return to the field
After holding out all of last season, Bell finally got the long-term contract he was seeking with the New York Jets.
But after such a long layoff and with a new team, can Bell produce like he did in Pittsburgh?
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold is not in the same stratosphere as the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. Also, the Jets’ receivers do not compare, the offensive line is a clear downgrade and Jets head coach Adam Gase runs a slower-paced offense.
Despite all of these questions and concerns, Bell remains one of the most talented running backs in the league. His unique, patient approach to running the ball along with his great hands make him one of the league’s most effective weapons out of the backfield.
And a full year off gave Bell plenty of time to recover, so his body should be fresh for the grueling workload he will be expected to shoulder in this offense.
Odell Beckham Jr. in a new offense
Beckham is a generational talent and one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL. Despite his eye-popping numbers — 390 receptions, 5,476 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns in only 59 career games — it could be argued that he’s been held back by Eli Manning and the mediocre New York Giants offense.
Now on the Cleveland Browns following an offseason trade, Beckham has a new lease on life in what will be one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL. Beckham is being drafted in the late first round and early second round, but he could easily finish the season as the top fantasy receiver.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is everything Manning is not: explosive, mobile and not averse to taking risks. Jarvis Landry, one of Beckham’s closest friends and former college teammates, is easily the best receiver that Beckham has played with in the NFL. And with running back Nick Chubb demanding attention from the backfield, Beckham may have the best opportunity to realize his full potential in this offense.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ Air Raid offense
The Arizona Cardinals will have a new look with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, new coach Kliff Kingsbury and the newly-installed Air Raid offense.
In this offensive system, the Cardinals could very well be the most pass-heavy team in the NFL — which means plenty of fantasy scoring to go around.
While Murray has looked shaky in the preseason, that is expected for a rookie quarterback even if he was the No. 1 overall pick. And Kingsbury has likely kept things under wraps as the team waits to unleash its offense in the regular season.
Veteran Larry Fitzgerald should remain a reliable presence, and receiver Christian Kirk is being hyped as a sleeper pick. Kirk is explosive and some signs in the offseason point to him breaking out in his second year.
David Johnson is being selected in the middle of the first round, but he has the talent and opportunity to be the best back in the league. In this offense, he should shine.
Against a beatable Detroit Lions defense this week, we could potentially see the dawn of a new era in Arizona.
Potential breakout players
Jameis Winston (quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Winston has been inconsistent and frustrating for fantasy owners since he entered the league, but he has a chance to break out this year under head coach Bruce Arians. In this new pass-heavy scheme, Winston is in line for a career year. Mike Evans will continue to pile up points, and ascending talents Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard may help take Winston’s game to the next level.
In what could very well be a back-and-forth game, Winston should put up big numbers against the San Francisco 49ers.
Chris Carson (running back, Seattle Seahawks)
The Seahawks have one of the most run-heavy offenses in the NFL, and Carson should be the main beneficiary of those touches. While he still has Rashaad Penny on his heels, Carson will be the focal point of the Seahawks’ rushing attack. Going up against a hapless Cincinnati Bengals team, the Seahawks could go up early and pound the rock with Carson as they eat clock.
Kenny Golladay (wide receiver, Detroit Lions)
The Lions’ matchup with the Cardinals in Week 1 could easily be a shootout. Arizona will be without cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford, which will open things up for Detroit’s passing attack. Expect Golladay to get plenty of looks in a potentially high-scoring game.
Hunter Henry (tight end, Los Angeles Chargers)
Coming back after an ACL tear, Henry may finally live up to his potential as quarterback Philip Rivers’ No. 2 target behind Keenan Allen.
Now that Antonio Gates has retired, Henry no longer has any competition and should see a healthy dose of targets. Until Melvin Gordon ends his holdout, Henry will be one of the focal points of the Chargers’ offense.
Henry has a juicy matchup in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, as the Colts defense gave up the most yards per game to opposing tight ends in 2018.